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The Kosovo Operation (October 15–November 20, 1944) was a series of military operations leading up to one final push during World War II, launched by forces allied with the United States and Great Britain to expel Nazi German forces from Kosovo and Metohija. The operations were assisted by United States and Great Britain supplies, along with small elements of special operations soldiers, with the bulk of the allied force being made up of Yugoslavian Partisans and parts of the People's Liberation Army of Albania".

Background and operations

Not long after the German armies had captured Yugoslavia in 1941, almost their entire force was called on to be involved in Operation Barbarossa, the attack on the Soviet Union Red Army. Most prisoners of war were paroled, particularly the Greeks. To free up German forces for service in Russia, the occupation of the Balkans fell to the Italians. In addition to Albania, which the Italians had held since 1939, they now occupied Greece and the Balkans, to include western Slovenia and Montenegro. A total of 45 Italian divisions had played a part in the fight to take Yugoslavia and Greece. The Germans Twelfth Army was assigned to the area around Athens, and numerous Nazi SS battalions were organized to help police the occupied territory, to include the Skenderbeg Division, which was made up from Albanian soldiers.

Inside Yugoslavia, the occupying Italian and German forces immediately began suffering considerable problems due to guerilla warfare operations led by Tito, and including the Chetniks. These Partisan operations caused considerable damage and casualties to the German forces and the Italians, causing Adolf Hitler to issue a directive ordering General Franz Böhme to use whatever means necessary to put down the guerilla activities. Allied forces in the west, mainly Great Britain and the United States, began supplying weapons and specially trained troops who would help coordinate the Partisan operations so that it coincided with allied operations outside Yugoslavia.

Böhme immediately reinforced the occupying forces in Serbia, and set up his command base in Belgrade, committing the 342nd Infantry Division, the 125th Infantry Regiment, the 113th Infantry Division, and the 704th and 714th Infantry Divisions to the operation. By mid-December, 1942, Böhme's operations had inflicted some 2,000 casualties on the Partisans. However, undaunted, the Partisans fled to Croatia, where they now would base their activities.

However, by the start of 1943, Böhme lost the XVIII Mountain Corps, a vital resource, which was recalled to Germany, as well as both the 342nd and the 113th Infantry Divisions, to be used in Russia. Böhme ordered the Bulgarian 1st Army Corp into Yugoslavia from Thrace. Croatia, allied with Germany, did not have the military resources to put down Partisan operations now based in their country. From January 15 through the 26th, 1942, the German Army launched an operation in the areas of Sarajevo and Visegrad, in which they inflicted heavy casualties on the Partisan forces with minor casualties to their own army. The operation was a tactical success, with the Germans having confiscated 855 rifles, 22 machine guns, 4 field pieces, 600 head of livestock, and 33 draft animals. However, it failed to achieve its ultimate objective of crushing the resistance due to Italian forces not arriving on time. The plan was designed to force Partisans to retreat into the waiting Italian divisions, but due to the Italians late arrival the Partisans were able to make their escape.

By early 1943, German prospects for victory in the war had begun to fade. The Battle of Stalingrad had cost the German Army 22 divisions and 300,000 soldiers by February, and by May German forces in North Africa would be forced to surrender. In Greece and Yugoslavia the German forces were plagued by Partisan attacks on their supply lines. The Italian and Croatian armies had withdrew their forces from outlying areas, preferring to use them to guard against attacks in the more populated areas, and main supply routes.

The Germans, virtually on their own in any effective attempts to stop Partisan activities, committed the 7th SS Mountain and 717th Infantry Divisions, the recently arrived 369th Infantry Division, and a regiment of the 187th Infantry Division to its operations. Later they would receive the 1st Mountain Division, heavy combat veterans newly arrived from service in Russia. With these forces, the Germans went on the offensive, and in Montenegro they captured Major Djurisic, a Chetniks leader, in addition to capturing 4,000 Partisans. Over a period of three months, 985 incidents of sabotage and small scale attacks by Partisan guerillas were reported to the German high command. 58 local officials, forced to remain in office by the occupying Germans and Italians, were murdered by the Partisans, and 197 town halls were burned. In March, 1943, 32 Bulgarian soldiers were killed and 26 wounded during a Partisan attack near Skopje. In their fury, the Bulgarians retaliated by killing 288 people in the vicinity, burning 550 houses and arresting another 715 persons. The readiness of the Bulgarian forces to execute any suspected Partisans without any investigation whatsoever prompted the German command in Belgrade to issue specific instructions that a trial must first take place before any execution.

By the end of that year, some 4,000 men serving with the Slovenian and Croatian armies deserted to join the Partisans. In Albania, one full division, the "Firenze Division", defected from the regular army and began fighting with the Partisans. Italy surrendered in 1943, and by 1944 the German "Group E" was withdrawing from Greece. The Bulgarian army, respected by the Germans as able soldiers, were becoming disheartened, due to repeated sabotage and small scale attacks being inflicted on them by the Partisans. By the end of the war, it was estimated that 1 in 7 soldiers serving in Yugoslavia, and wearing the German uniform, whether they themselves were German or not, became a casualty.

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